"The Plague of Sin" and "The Cure of a Living Physician": Bad News and Good News from Blessed Doctor Luther

"The Plague of Sin" and "The Cure of a Living Physician": Bad News and Good News from Blessed Doctor Luther November 24, 2014
“The Great Physician at Work,” by F. Hofmann (c. 1890)

Original sin is not a quiescent thing, but a kind of continuous motion or entelechy, producing its own effects. It is not a quiescent quality, but a restless evil which labors day and night, even in those who sleep. We see it in nocturnal defilements. It is a restless animal, a beast which cannot stand still, yes, which must have its motions. This is simply the truth, original sin disturbs greatly. It moves man to avarice, disobedience, and other vices, even when he sleeps. For it always endeavors to move us away from God. That ulcerous plague of sin cannot stand together with justification. For that reason it always excites its own passions and its own tendencies.

We admit, then, that these motions of original sin are there, just as Paul says, “I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive” [Rom. 7:23], as lust for young women. These impulses are at times lighter, at times more serious, and they should be viewed as a kind of poison which drains continually and an ulcer which, the nearer it comes to health, the less poison it holds. Sin acts in that way and we ought to apply plasters until it lets up. This is our life, when the plaster has been applied, whenever the poison is halted, when it is not present, then it grows faint. Thus original sin is restless even in us, but since we are under the doctor, under Christ and live mindful of our illness, we shall be blessed. For that poison decreases more and more from day to day and we always wipe out, wash, and cleanse the poison, with the poison becoming less until it is totally extinguished by fire in the judgment.

In the meantime we endure the cure of a living physician, that is, of Christ. We hear the Word, pray, read. As much as we can, we recover through the Word. For we ought to pray daily, hear and meditate on the Word daily, attend the sacraments, and purge the poison and rottenness. Accordingly, we ought to use these means, so that we are purged, cleansed of the poison of sin, until we are truly and entirely purged. This takes place in the pit of the tomb, until we reach eternal life, which happens at the last judgment. This is also a very good argument.

(AE Vol. 34, Disputation Concerning Justification, 1536; Argument XX)

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Therefore every Christian has enough in Baptism to learn and to practice all his life; for he has always enough to do to believe firmly what it promises and brings: victory over death and the devil, forgiveness of sin, the grace of God, the entire Christ, and the Holy Ghost with His gifts. In short, it is so transcendent that if timid nature could realize it, it might well doubt whether it could be true.

For consider, if there were somewhere a physician who understood the art of saving men from dying, or, even though they died, of restoring them speedily to life, so that they would thereafter live forever, how the world would pour in money like snow and rain, so that because of the throng of the rich no one could find access! But here in Baptism there is brought free to every one’s door such a treasure and medicine as utterly destroys death and preserves all men alive.

(Large Catechism Pars IV, “Of Baptism”, sec. 41-43)

 

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